3130 University Avenue, North Park
On the opposite shore of the Sea of Cortez from Baja California, due south of Arizona, sits the Mexican state of Sonora. Despite our relative proximity, San Diego doesn’t see a lot restaurant dishes attributed to Sonoran traditions. Most often, bacon-wrapped hot dogs.
But at least one place has, at any given time, banked on the Sonoran name. Small branches of Sonora Express Mexican Fusion have been cropping up around the county the past two years. And, in the cases of locations downtown and in El Cajon, promptly closing.
You have to admire the tenacity. A current Murphy Canyon spot has remained in business over a year, and three months back a second opened in North Park. That’s where I finally found it on, University Avenue, in what could legitimately be called a hole in the wall. There’s no going inside the restaurant; it’s mainly a kitchen with a Dutch door open to take orders, and a few tables on the sidewalk.
What really caught my attention, though, was the menu posted next to the door, which offered burritos the likes of which I’ve never seen.
A sign hanging over the sidewalk calls Sonora Express “House of the Rockefeller,” and a Rockefeller burrito heads up the $9.50 burrito list. It offers steak, shrimp, grilled onions, and cheese rolled into a flour tortilla grilled with bacon crumbles embedded in a schmear of cream cheese. Other burritos follow suit. I ordered one that swapped the surf and turf for carne asada and garlic sautéed mushrooms. A third employed strips of grilled jalapeño.
The use of cream cheese and bacon in this way is new to me. A man claiming to be an owner told me he hails from Sonora, and when I asked whether such toppings are common there, he offered a shrug and sly grin. The closest I could find online is a place in Tucson that wraps a burrito in crispy strips of bacon.
But here is an interesting bit of trivia about Sonora, is it’s one part of Mexico where European wheat crops flourished. Consequently, use of flour tortillas is more prevalent as a region. Which means burritos. Sonoran cities are credited for the creating the burro percherón, better known in the United States as a super burrito. To give you an idea, a percherón means large work horse, whereas burrito means small donkey.
This carne and mushroom burrito wasn’t so massive at that. Rather, it was fairly big, but burritos larger than my forearm have become the norm in this town, so its size didn’t stand out. The meaty, greasy, salty scope of it sure did. The cream cheese melts into an all-encompassing dairy lubricant. This is hangover food.
Which brings me further down the burrito menu. Sonora Express opens at noon, but it serves “all day breakfast burritos” for $6.99. A couple of these are pretty standard: bacon, eggs, potatoes, etc. The chicken and waffles burrito is not.
Nor is the chilaquiles burrito, filled with corn tortilla strips cooked in what tastes like a guajillo chili sauce, rolled in a flour tortilla with beans, caramelized onions, and a fried egg. Not as decadent as the Rockefeller, say, but pretty solid execution of a mashup concept. And cheap.
Whether these burritos are Sonora or merely creative, they wind up memorable. I didn’t even think to try one of the eatery’s three takes on a bacon-wrapped hot dog.